Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Science of Man is the Most Necessary of All Sciences

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Address to Participants of the Inter-academic Conference
"The changeable identity of the individual"

Promoted by the "Academie des Sciences de Paris"
and the Pontifical Academy of Science
January 28, 2008
The address was delivered in French.

Honorable Chancellors,
My fellow academicians,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is with pleasure that I welcome you at the end of your colloquium here in Rome, which started at the Institut de France in Paris, on the theme "The changing identity of the individual." * * *

Since the exact sciences - natural as well as human - have achieved prodigious advances in knowledge about man and his universe, there is a great temptation to want to totally circumscribe the identity of the human being and enclose it within the knowledge that one can have about him. In order not to be committed to such a way, it is important to give the same importance to anthropological, philosophical and theological studies which allow man's mystery to emerge and be maintained, because no science can say what man is, where he comes from, and where he is going.

Thus the science of man becomes the most necessary of all sciences. * * * Man is always something beyond what we can see or what we can perceive through experience. Not to question the essence of man leads inevitably to a refusal to study the objective truth of the human being in his integralness, and because of this, no longer to be capable of recognizing the foundation on which human dignity rests, from the embryonic stage to his natural death.

In the course of your colloquium, you experienced how the sciences, philosophy and theology can aid each other to perceive the identity of man, which is always in the process of becoming.

Starting from an investigation into the new being borne out of the union between two cells, which carries a new and specific genetic patrimony of its own, you have shown the essential elements of the human mystery, which is distinguished by otherness - a being created by God, a being in the image of God, a being who is loved and made to be loved. As a human being, man is never closed in on himself; he is always the bearer of otherness, and finds himself from the start in interaction with other human beings, as the human sciences more and more reveal to us.

How can we not evoke that wonderful meditation of the psalmist on the human being 'knit in the secret of his mother's womb' but known, in his identity and his mystery, by God alone who loves and protects him" (cf. Ps 138(139), 1-16)!

Man is not the result of chance, nor of convergences, determinisms, or physico-chemical interactions. He is a being who enjoys a freedom which, while taking human nature into account, transcends it and is the sign of that mystery of otherness that he inhabits. Through this freedom, man can know there is a sense to his existence. In exercising authentic freedom, a person realizes his calling; he fulfills himself; he gives shape to his deepest identity.

It is also through the exercise of freedom that he can take responsibility for his actions. In this sense, the dignity that is particular to the human being is both a gift of God and the promise of a future. Man carries in himself a specific ability to discern what is good. Placed in him by the Creator like a stamp, synderesis (the principle of moral consciousness which pushes an agent to good) impels him to do what is good. Thus impelled, man is called on to develop his conscience by training and by exercise to guide himself freely during his existence, based on the essential laws which are natural law and moral law.

In our time, when scientific progress attracts and seduces through the possibilities it offers, it is more important than ever to educate the consciences of our contemporaries so that science does not become the criterion for what is good, and so man may be respected as the center of creation who should not be the object of ideological manipulations, arbitrary decisions, nor of abuses by the strong over the weak. All these dangers we have known in various manifestations throughout human history, but most especially during the twentieth century.

Every scientific initiative should also be an initiative of love, to be carried out in the service of man and humanity, and to make its contribution to the construction of personal identity. In effect, as I underscored in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, "love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time...Love is indeed 'ecstasy'.. in the sense of a journey, an ongoing exodus from the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery..."(No. 6).

Love makes a man come out of himself to discover and know the other - in opening to the other, he also affirms the identity of that other, because the other reveals me to myself. Throughout the Bible, it is the experience which, beginning with Abraham, numberless believers have had. The model par excellence of love is Christ. In the act of giving his life for his brothers, of giving himself totally, he manifests his profound identity and gives us the key to reading the unfathomable mystery of his being and his mission.

In entrusting your studies to the intercession of St. Thomas Aquinas, whom the Church honors today and who remains 'an authentic model for you who search for the truth' (Fides et Ratio, No. 78), I assure you of my prayers, as well as for your families and co-workers, and I impart to all with affection the Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 28 January 2008


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